I’ll admit, I’m totally romanticizing the idea of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.
I imagine how lovely it will be to spend time in nature every day.
And to meet other adventurers who tell outlandish stories, bring their mini mandolins on the trail and make magic for foot-sore hikers around the campfire.
And to camp out under the stars in grassy meadows, awakening to the sound of birdsong and babbling brooks, watching the sun come up as I savor my morning coffee before I take my little stroll in the woods.
I realize there may be moments on my journey where reality clashes with my romanticized vision.
I know because I’ve been reading other people’s accounts of their Appalachian Trail experience, including tales of joy-stealing blisters, lightening-illuminated deluges and snoring old men in shelters.
These accounts ignite my inner fear-monger on an almost daily basis.
But still, I read, fascinated by every detail of the march from Georgia to Maine.
Authors don’t talk much about the fears they have going into their trek, the ones they had to overcome just to get to their starting trailhead and walk away from the family member who dropped them there alone, standing at the edge of the woods.
(The thing everyone is afraid of is the toothless inbreds packing guns and banjos who lurk around every bend in the trail in the Southern Appalachian mountains. Three books--out of three--so far have alluded to Deliverance and the stereotypical portrayal of Southern natives. Sheesh. I’ve lived in the South, in the North, in the West. There are rednecks everywhere, y’all.)
Of course, I’m from Alabama.
So the South is the least of my fears.
But I do have a whole cornucopia of other fears constantly jockeying for my attention and trying to talk me out of my trek.
The “what if’s” are endless!
What if I get hurt, break something, die?
What if I can’t tolerate the crowds and people get on my nerves and I use that as an excuse to quit?
What if I’m that person that no one likes and everyone avoids on the trail, because I’m churlish and I hate people?
What if I’m lonely?
What if it’s like junior high school and I can't find anyone to sit with at the lunch table?
What if it’s tedious and I get bored?
What if it’s not the journey of self discovery I imagine it will be?
What if it IS, and I discover something I’m not ready to act on?
What if mice crawl on my face?
What if I get Lyme disease or West Nile Virus or Noro Virus or Zika?
What if I don’t learn how to “hike my own hike” end up with regrets about not making the most of it?
What if I run out of money?
What if I do get struck by lightening or it rains the whole time?
What if my body can’t withstand the pressure…my knees, my feet, my bones?
So many what if’s.
But it essentially boils down to one 'what if?'
What if I don’t have the grit and the gumption to finish, that I don’t have what it takes to do epic things?
Because ultimately I know it’s not really about being prepared physically to walk 2,000 miles. That’s just a small part of it.
I know it’s really a mental game.
I know that the mental preparation is more important than any one-legged squats or training hikes or piriformis stretches that I do.
Those "what if" questions are just testing my mental preparation.
The real question is not about all the ways I could be stopped.
The real question is can I be stopped?
Do I believe in myself enough to believe that I have what it takes to do something this epic?
Do I even see myself as the kind of person who does epic things?
If there’s even a smidgen of “yes” in the answer to that question (and there is!), then there is very much the likelihood of success.
In spite of the superficial doubts that my inner fear monger (trail name: Dick) is so good and relentless about inventing.
Because the first step to success in any endeavor is being able to sense oneself as having already completed the desired goal.
To first become the kind of person who has what it takes to do something as epic as spend six months climbing one mountain after another between Georgia and Maine.
To do that months before setting foot on the trail.
So how do you go about becoming unstoppable in your own mind?
Here are five ways to prepare yourself mentally to do something epic, to make sure that nothing, not even a little lightening, or a mouse on your face, can stop you.
1. Know your why.
What will competing a thru-hike of the AT do for you? What is important about doing it? Write this down and look at it every day before doing your epic thing. Bring it with you on the trail. So when you're feeling unstoppable you'll have instant access to your why, which will make you think twice about quitting. For more on this, read Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis and watch Simon Sinek's TED Talk.
2. Know yourself.
How you do one thing is how you do everything, so what needs to change (and what needs to stay the same) in order to complete this monumental undertaking?
For example, I know I tend to get excited and dive into things head first, reading all the books, buying the gear, joining the Meet-Up groups. Then someone yells "Squirrel!" and I run off to chase the squirrel, forgetting all about the thing I was just passionate about.
I'm in that first flush of excitement phase as I write this and maintaining vigilance against anyone, especially myself, who dares to yell "Squirrel!" I imagine this vigilance will be for the duration of my hike.
If you're new to this kind of self-exploration, you may want to hire a coach who can help you identify the pitfalls in your thinking and the patterns in your mindset that may not serve you on the trail.
Seriously...it's worth the investment. Because we really are blind to our own shit.
Almost any kind of life coach or success coach can help with this. I can help you with this! Just be sure you shop around and get a taste for a potential coach's style before signing on the dotted line.
If you'd like a complimentary session with me, feel free to contact me and we'll set up a time. Or you may want to be coached by someone who has completed their thru-hike (I haven't, yet). In that case, try Carla "Zipper" Robertson at Wild and White Blazing. She's a trained coach, like me, and she's thru-hiked the AT.
3. Know what you need to let go of in order to succeed.
Is it a limiting belief?
Is it the question “what if”? The if’s, but’s and what if’s keep you stuck where you are and are extremely powerful in their pull.
Is it something you fear you will lose in order to have what you want?
Ask yourself, "What will I have to let go of in order to complete my thru-hike?" Or, "What might I lose when I have _________________?"
Again, a coach trained in transformational coaching can be incredibly useful here because we have ways of helping you put fears into perspective.
4. Know your come from.
If you intend to do something epic, assume the posture of someone for whom doing epic things comes naturally and is a given.
Practice being that person, not the person who gives in to fear or whining.
Step into the skin of that person every morning when you are reading your why and soon it will be as natural for you as getting dressed.
For more on this, read my reflections on fear, and say hello to Dick while you're there.
5. Know the conditions that will set you up for success.
How will you hold yourself accountable?
Do you need to announce your intention on Facebook and at your next family gathering?
If people don't know what you're up to it's much easier to talk yourself out of doing it. So tell people. Tell people who will support you. Then tell people who will give you a hard time if you don't finish. Make your intention known to the world and you'll find it hard to weasel out of it later.
Do you need to find a hiking or training partner?
Do you need to connect with other people who've done what you intend to do? If it's thru-hiking the AT, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy will send you a list of people who will be happy to talk to you about your plan.
Find some way to hold yourself accountable because accountability breeds success.
Good luck, Sunshine. I'm rooting for you and I know you can do it.
Now before doing your homework, please leave a message and tell me why you plan to hike the Appalachian Trail. If you want, I'll go first...click here to see my why.